Saturday, March 20, 2010

Autobiographical 1 - an investigation as to the cause...

An average, everyday stroll would bring this sight as the closing crescendo to the symphony that is normal life in St. Petersburg

So far we have looked at the now and the adventures of the recent past; this is a look back, way back, if you will indulge me in my composition of an autobiographically focused look at immigration and refugeeism. This is only a rough draft of the start of chapter 1, the introduction I posted in:
is the opening to this collection of writing.

Untitled 1 - Autobiographical Investigation

It seemed the brightest day in memory; buildings aglow with that ever-fleeting sub-Arctic sun –blues, yellows, raspberry reds… the waters of the Neva glittering happily, refreshed after days of nothing but the gray of clouds to reflect. Yet the room seemed empty, cold, devoid of light and joy – it embodied a sense of “gray”. The walls were bare, as was the bed and the kitchen counter. We were lucky, we had our own kitchenette; though I don’t recall having our own bathroom, I did much of my pooping in a plastic toilet placed in the middle of our one room apartment whenever I had the need, so I did not pay much attention to the lack of facilities. One room, one happy room for my mother, grandmother, grandfather and myself to share; never cramped, never annoying, never intolerable… just happy.

After two years, of which I do not recall anything, my grandfather passed away leaving us an “abundance” of extra space. I don’t remember how he loved me, I don’t remember the soft of his long beard, the twinkle in his honest smile, the pain and tears he caused my grandmother (by way of a trait I would eventually inherit). All I remember is that there was no constant male presence in my life for the first 8 years, then a distant, strained and ill-fated one for the next 14. My grandmother did her best to make up for that, I am not sure whether intentionally, by representing the communist ideal 24 hours a day. Up at 6am to sing the national anthem along with the radio (I loved that part), then a breakfast of oatmeal or buckwheat, then to walking outdoors, learning to read, learning math, riding a bike… there will be no idleness! If ever I would exhibit my, now well developed and embraced, sense of laziness, there would be the callused from 40 years in a factory hand to remind me of my duty as a young commy to never commit the sin of idleness (or religion or democracy or the desire for justice).

“you don’t want to read? Well, one who has not put in a days work does not deserve bubbly water. You will still swim in the freezing waters of the Black Sea, but not for fun, only for your health, then we will go home without staying at the beach so that you can think about and consider perhaps learning to read sometime before your 4th birthday”

“but babushka, I love bubbly water, I will read tomorrow, I promise! I really want it! I really love it!”

“do I have to repeat myself?”

My ass already felt the kinetic potential of a hand that never required a belt to be effective.


I am no child prodigy, but I learned to speak, read, multiply and use a toilet before Einstein knew how to wipe his own ass. This is no credit to me, but to the lack of options which abounded my life. I don’t recall having any animosity towards this lack however (I was after-all a good soviet boy), I was happy in my simplicity, in my handful of toys, handful of clothes and handful of food options. I sought only the smile from my mother, the lack of woopin from my grandmother and the occasions when my mothers friends would gather and I would be witness to a congeniality and love that I have since after craved – needed – yet was never able to find. Sitting under the tables laden sparingly, but what seemed bountifully, encircled by doctors, engineers, scientists, actors, writers and directors; aglow with love and respect and creativity and friendship; I would bask in the emanating warmth, laugh at the jokes I could understand, follow the stories and the poems and the songs often written for just that occasion – a dinner with friends.

Though we were poor I knew no hardship, in part because I did not desire anything that my mother would have to tell me we could not afford, and in part because my mother never revealed our poverty to me. Our lives, as they were, seemed not only the norm but the ideal. My grandmother and I would even go to the Baltic or Black sea for the summer; we would stay with relatives or in small rented rooms, and we knew of no luxury in the traditional sense, but we had plenty of our own – then, fresh fruit and milk and vegetables and bread were a luxury. As simple as it all was it was still beyond what my mother could ever afford (grandmother by then was retired), I did not know at the time, in part because I did not know I had a father or that one was needed in order to conceive me, that my father supported these yearly summer excursions by selling the cases of cognac he would receive for taking patients ahead of the line and those that other doctors were afraid to anesthetize (the beauty of free health care was embodied in the multi-month long line you had to wait for even the simplest procedure).


  1. Mr. T,

    This is by far my favorite post on your blog thus far. Thought you should know.

  2. Dear Mista,

    Thanks!! I'm glad you enjoyed it!
    Anything particular you like?

    Mr. T

  3. Mr. T,

    My favorite portion would have to be the paragraph about your grandmother - her routines, her beliefs, etc. I suppose I like it I can relate - my childhood was heavily influenced by a powerful woman who demanded complete respect and loyalty.